Sunday, 31 May 2015

The Rock Whisperers: tales from the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival ... by Kirstin Lemon


Horace the travelling Plesiosaur cinema. Just one of
the attractions at the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival. 
The first bank holiday weekend in May usually means planning barbecues, family outings and other relaxing pastimes. But for a team of dedicated scientists from the British Geological Survey it meant something completely different; it was time for the Lyme Regis Fossil Festival!

This popular festival attracts over 10,000 people to Lyme Regis, arguably one of the UK's most important fossil localities. The significance of this Dorset coastal town doesn't stop there though, and in 2001 the entire Jurassic Coast was designated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site because of its contribution to the study of earth science. It is now one of only two sites in the UK to receive such a status because of their geology.

Lyme Regis is therefore a natural choice for a festival dedicated to all things 'fossil' and those that attended weren't disappointed. The activities on offer included walks, talks, theatre, music, comedy, exhibits and of course lots of hands-on science!

Clive Mitchell showing off the Climate Through Time map.
The theme of the festival was 'Mapping The Earth', to celebrate the 200th Anniversary of William Smith's geological map. In keeping with the theme, the BGS stand was based on an interactive Climate Through Time map. This allowed people to explore the links between our planet's changing climate and the different rocks that formed as these environmental conditions varied through geological time. This was all supported by some giant Lego and some handy rock sets.

So on a cold and blustery Friday, the Grand Marquee on the beach at Lyme Regis became a hive of activity as dozens of schools from the surrounding area joined us for the Schools Day. It was a bit of a baptism of fire for those of us that had never attended the festival before, but we quickly got into our stride, exploring the geology of the British Isles with the hundreds of school children that came to see us. Many of the kids already knew a good deal about geology, but there were quite a few that didn't so we got to work in explaining how diverse our geology is and exactly what some of our rocks look like. If the 'oohs and aahs' were anything to go by, we've hopefully inspired a few geologists of the future.

Exploring the geology of the British Isles
with local school children.
The next two days were open to the public and out of the thousands of people that came into the Grand Marquee, we must have talked to the majority of them. The huge variety of people that attended the Fossil Festival meant that we are able to explain what BGS does, introduce them to our iGeology app, talk about the William Smith map, as well as carrying on using the interactive Climate Through Time map.

The feedback was amazing with many people commenting that after visiting us they knew a lot more about the geology of where they live as well as about many of their favourite places in the British Isles. And of course we had a few comments about the very friendly and knowledgeable BGS staff!

We weren't alone in the festivities and were joined in the Grand Marquee by scientists from organisations such as the Natural History Museum, British Antarctic Survey, National Oceanography Centre, Palaeontological Association, Geological Society, and Rockwatch. They were accompanied by exploding volcanoes, crinoid-making workshops, make your own dinosaur footprints sessions as well as a CSI Jurassic Coast activity. The huge number of different activities on offer meant that the Grand Marquee was literally a hands-on science centre for the duration of the Fossil Festival.

The Lyme Regis Fossil Festival takes place annually on the first bank holiday in May. For more information see www.fossilfestival.co.uk

If you would like your very own Climate Through Time map you can download it as a PDF for FREE here.










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